Posted by: Sue Spencer | November 19, 2007

Why We Farm

CHS began as a teaching order, founding two elementary schools, St. Hilda’s and St. Hugh’s in Manhattan and the Melrose School in Brewster. After the schools became independent, the community re-envisioned its mission. As a brochure published a few years ago expresses it, CHS went

from teaching children the basics of a well-rounded formation for life to guiding adults in spirituality and prayer AND educating all ages in the ways of peace, ecumenism, sustainable living, care of the whole earth community, earth literacy, and learning about and living in voluntary simplicity.

Originally it was envisioned that the Melrose (Brewster) convent would become an Earth Literacy Center, with retreats and classes. The focus shifted, however, when two of the sisters decided to start an organic garden. Over several years, the great expanse of lawn behind St. Cuthbert’s House was transformed into arable land, and Bluestone Farm was born, named after all the rocks, large and small, that had to be cleared.

Later, a second field, “Sweet William’s,” was established on property across the way, named for Bill Consiglio, who tilled much of the soil and who is truly a sweet man. This second field gave us about an acre, all told, and enabled us to grow about 75% of our own food, all of it organically. Most of the other 25% is purchased either from the local farmer’s market or from one of two independent organic food stores. We seek to eat locally as much as possible. Thus we have gone from teaching earth literacy to living it, in a (quite literally) down-to-earth way. As our most recent newsletter (which you can read at our web site) puts it,

The farm is a whole living system in which everything is related to everything else. Nearly everything that is biodegradable gets composted, the compost goes into the soil, and so on. The ducks provide eggs, and also eat bugs in the garden and leave their manure behind as fertilizer. We are also trying to reduce our unrecyclable waste and to reduce our use of water, fossil fuels, electricity, and gas.

The newsletter quotes H.C. Flores in Food not Lawns:

Growing food is one of the most radical things you can do: Those who control our food control our lives, and when we take that control back into our own hands, we empower ourselves toward autonomy, self-reliance, and true freedom.

We’re also participating in a world-wide movement. Environmentalist Paul Hawken, in his new book Blessed Unrest (New York: Viking 2007), estimates that there are one to two million organizations all over the world, representing tens of millions of people, working for the healing of the planet and for social justice. A few of the organizations are large and well-known, but most are small and local. Most of these groups have sprung up spontaneously; no central authority coordinates them – or could it be that the Holy Spirit is behind it all?

Together, Hawken suggests, these organizations represent earth’s “immune system” coming to life. As such, they represent a great source of hope. As Hawken notes,

When asked at colleges if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science that describes what is happening on earth today and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t have the correct data. If you meet the people in this unnamed movement and aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a heart.

Personally, I prefer to think in terms of “hope” rather than “optimism.” Hope is an act of defiance in the face of pessimism, in the face of all that would otherwise numb us into denial or send us reeling into despair. When we here at Melrose work to heal and build our soil, when we save seeds, when we refrain from the use of harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides, when we support local agriculture and generally when we seek to transform the tiny piece of the planet that God has entrusted to us, then we take a stand for hope. It’s good to know that we are not alone.



  1. Welcome to the blogosphere! I’m looking forward to reading more from you — thanks for writing about your faith journey. You may also want to submit your blog feed to, an aggregator that collects posts from many different UU blogs.

  2. It’s great to see you here, Sue. It sounds like you have a good life.


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